Sunday, 29 December 2013

Book Club Three-way Special- Gone Girl, Sharp Objects & Dark Places

Book club time! 

This week I thought a review of the UK spring/summer hit 'Gone Girl' by Gillian Flynn (originally published 1st January 2012) was long over-due. 

I devoured the book after recommendations from multiple sources and spotting it in Waterstones too many times. Funny how that works isn't it, what's suddenly the trendy read and everyone seems to be carrying a copy? But more on that another time. 

'Gone Girl' follows the story of a missing persons case, from the perspective of the missing woman's husband as well as what appears to be diary entries of the wife. In (what I would soon discover is) usual Gillian Flynn fashion the story twists and turns, toying with the lines of right and wrong, light and dark, choices and lack thereof. 

The husband is portrayed in a bluntly honest manner when we are reading his POV. He isn't particularly likeable nor does he try to be, but he isn't downright un-relatable or un-likeable either and so the reader forms an oddly attached relationship with him. 

We want to know more, even though we are constantly held back a bit by theories of what might have happened, that nagging feeling something isn't right as we constantly wait for the hint of what the twist will be. Is he an innocent man searching for his wife? Did he play a part in her disappearance? Who is she, really? 

Truth and fiction within the story mix in a clever and cunning manner, and as this was my first time reading a Flynn book I wasn't expecting the mind games. 

It's a thoroughly enjoyable read, and while the very end may feel a bit out there and, in fact, slightly drawn out, the book is addictive and keeps your mind constantly occupied and your emotional investment in the story high. The ability to write the unlikable main character well, and keep us both entertained and, dare I say it, rooting for him despite the many times we are also confronted with his moral shortcomings and the very real possibility he might be involved...   

People are scary creatures. They are un-expected and their motivation not always clear or particularly logical. Abusing this fact to the fullest Flynn carves out the details of her characters and their flaws, and when the twists start coming (some expected, some not) it's both enjoyable and disturbing. 

Which brings us nicely onto her other two hits, 'Dark Places' and 'Sharp Objects'. 

As mentioned, once you've read a Flynn book you may start to expect a few re-occurring elements. After Gone Girl I was so thrilled to have found an author whose writing I thoroughly enjoyed and that made me almost miss tube stops while devouring the pages, so naturally I quickly Kindle-downloaded everything she'd published so far. 
Dark Places (Published 2009) follows Libby Day, the sole survivor of a disturbing massacre in a small rural Kansas (fictional) town. As the only witness of the murder of her sisters and mother she, as a child, testifies and sends her brother to jail for the deeds. All while the press have a field day blaming Satanic Cult worshipping, with the side effect of making Libby a bit of a cult survival story in some circles. The book starts up twenty five years later, with Libby's financial situation forcing her to confront the possibility of her brother's innocence after being offered money to assist an amateur investigator group. They are convinced there was more to the story, and Libby, while initially motivated solely by hard cash, is soon stumbling across facts that seem to insist there was a chance she could have helped put an innocent man in jail. 

Again I quickly realised that the main character was far from a charmer. Everything about her leaves you feeling a bit unsure. She threads a fine line between deserving of sympathy for her past traumas and testing your loyalty and belief in her truth and decisions. Yet you root for her, from start to finish. You care. You fear. You wonder. 

The story features a variety of questionable characters all with their own motives and secrets, some quite dark and shocking. But throughout you are also faced with the horrifying pieces of memories from Libby as she both tries to recall the real events she saw that terrible night long ago and battle the desire to never have to think about it again. The perspective challenges the readers' own morals as to how crimes compare and how truths and perceptions can be so deceiving, all while pushing the story onwards. 

In many ways I actually found this book both far darker than Gone Girl and the ending a bit less extravagant (perhaps the wrong word, feel free to replace with something more appropriate... Un-realistic despite it's extremeness almost giving it some realism?). But perhaps that's due to the entire storyline being so un-apologetically and shockingly... Brutal. 

Again it was an enjoyable and challenging read, and I struggled to stop thinking about it each time I put the book down. 

So naturally that led me straight to 'Sharp Objects' (published 2006, yes I seem to have managed to read her collection backwards). In hindsight there are some tells this is the first story, perhaps just my own perception but there is a sense of testing boundaries and careful application of the character portrayals here whereas the others are bolder (although that's not to say this isn't equally dark and testing of the readers psyche, nor that they are necessarily better. It's a brilliant read, all the same darkness but perhaps more exquisite and carefully structured) and expansions of the same themes. 

We follow Camille Preaker, a reporter who has escaped her small-town troubled past for the big city. Trouble at her paper, however, demands a scoop and her editor assigns her to cover the murder of a little girl in her once home-town. But going back proves testing both for Camille and her family whom she returns to stay with. She clashes with her pristine and and oddly removed mother, is missing a common ground with her young half-sister, and faces a community that is offering quick solutions and easy fixes to a horrific crime as a way to deal with the grief. At the same time her own demons shine through the words etched in her skin from years of self-harming. Wicked, Girl, Nasty, Harmful, Whore... Trailing a mix of truth, lies and memories she fights the battle to uncover what really happened to two little girls (judged already by the community around them) while keeping herself from getting lost in her inner battles and confusing flashbacks. 

Again it's a detective read, there's a case to solve and the details are sketchy and contradictory. All players have their own motives, sometimes unclear and often questionable, and the truth is just out of reach. 

Camille shares many qualities with the later main characters, in fact in some ways she's the first in the evolving line of the same themed protagonist. Each character shares a number of qualities. They view themselves as a bit damaged, they appear a bit guarded or closed off in some ways, they may be coming from the right or the good place but to the world some actions still come across as questionable. Etc etc.

Camille is a bit anti-social, male attention and sex is blunt and guarded, means to an itch scratching end and feelings to be shoved away. The risks of opening up to pain, the walls between herself and those who seem to care... Her fragile and often disturbingly eerie relationship to her mother. She's an intricate puzzle and we slowly uncover the history behind her reality. 

And while you start to have an inkling for the ending about half-way, the suspense and the unravelling keeps you hooked and entertained (and slightly un-easy) from start to finish. Top read, and I highly recommend it (although unlike me perhaps best to start with this one). 

All Gillian Flynn's books demand your attention. The stories hold the reader in a relentless grasp, each page a new challenge and with ten new questions to be answered while carelessly toying with your existing theories. That's the key, writing that keeps the reader wanting more through each twist and turn.

What did you guys think, anyone get so hooked they just had to go through all three? And if so what were your faves? 

I have to say Dark Places stands out for me personally. There's something so challenging and uncomfortable while the character balances the right and wrong, likeable for genuine vs for sympathetic reasons repeatedly. But all three were enjoyable reads. You can say what you like about the reality of the twists but we are in the fiction world. Equally, the daily news seems to report far wilder realities fairly often (sadly) these days so... 

For the Flynn-verse I give a solid five cute kittens (I know, and this is based in the enjoyable ness and addictiveness of her writing - the storylines do vary in quality and I admit the similarities between the themes and twists make it slightly easier at the third book to follow Flynn's imagination reaching the right answers just a bit quicker). 

On a side note, both Gone Girl (film rights bought by Reese Witherspoon's production company & 20th Century Fox, who knew!) which will be directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network, House of Cards to name a few) and Dark Places (with Gilles Paquet-Brenner directing) have not just been green-lit as films but are cast and heading to releases in 2014 (September for Dark Places and October for Gone Girl, which seems both a bit odd and slightly brilliant in a way to have them competing almost straight after each other). Sharp Objects is also in the works (not much detail on release plans at the moment but with Sarah Michelle Gellar attached as Camille), produced by Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity). 

Flynn herself is slated for the screenplays for all (busy bee) which is promising enough, so I am very excited to see what the results will be. The cast looks solid for all and Fincher is always responsible for intriguing and dedicated filmmaking (100 takes anyone?). 


Disclaimer: None of the above photos are my own and I take no credits for those appearing in this post, all through google images and linked articles. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm so darn excited for these films to come out!!! xx